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Ralph Lauren - the book, the American fashion icon + designer, and his perfume

Dear readers, few weeks ago I was watching the documentary titled ‘Very Ralph’ by HBO, it was a documentary movie about the American fashion icon, Mr. Ralph Lauren, the movie was showed back late 2019, and I don’t know why that I have completely missed it! Anyway, in the world of refined menswear, no one doesn’t know who Ralph Lauren is, the impeccable American WASP preppy style that inspired by the golden Hollywood glamour, and the handsome and beautiful actors on one side, on the other, the liberating Western and safari style that evokes a certain countryside chic, which roughly describe the essential Ralph Lauren style when it comes to his fashion, for both men and women. The iconic polo pony logo of the brand represents not just the best of American preppy style, but it’s also a hallmark of the American ideal and success, that makes one to feel the upper-class elite style, and the prestige of an American aristocrat when wearing one of the pony logo clothing.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of the fashion pieces with the polo pony logo, even nowadays, but as I learnt about the world of Ralph back in my retail days when working for the brand, and discovered that it’s not just about the logo, it’s the way of living, from clothing to home collection, even perfume, and the artistry of the American classic WASP and preppy sophistication, through this ‘Very Ralph’ documentary, it took me back to my memory lane again, not only feeling inspired by hearing Ralph’s own words about how he started his fashion empire, the challenges and the struggle, this movie also moves me a lot that how a self-made man can still be stylish and successful if he’s keep believing in himself, and keep working towards it; and that’s exactly why I decided to blog about this today.

In the past I have written a blog post about a book about this American fashion icon, and I did come across his latest book ‘Ralph Lauren: A Way of Living’ recently, yet, I’d like to do something a bit different today, I am taking you back to my memory lane about my encounter of Ralph’s premium menswear collection – Ralph Lauren Purple Label, and, his gigantic, namesake deluxe edition coffee table book, also, his luxury, rarely-talk-about men’s fragrance – Purple Label.

My first encounter about Ralph Lauren Purple Label menswear should be dated back in around 1999, it was the time when I was first witnessed the collection physically since I heard about its debut in 1995, as mentioned earlier, I am not a big fan of the polo pony logo of the brand’s clothing, but, I have an enormous interest with this top-of-the-line menswear collection, its rarity and exquisite workmanship and fabric, the sleek, aristocratic appeal and silhouette, also the sumptuous purple color label (by the way, do you know that purple is the color represents royalty, luxury, nobility and grandeur?) with its elegant lyrical font, which changes my perception about the brand, even the fashion designer himself, in a whole new way. I still remember at the beginning of the Purple Label collection, all of their exquisite menswear were made in England, suits were made by the premium English Savile Row suit maker, Chester Barrie, using some of the finest fabric, with the unfinished stitching on the sleeves and shoulder, which the real sleeves button holes will only be ‘opened’ after it’s sold, to ensure the much personalized sleeve length of the garment for its owner, it also shows how luxurious of each piece of Purple Label’s tailoring clothing is, as it requires the last finishing touch by an artisan’s (the tailor) hand.

Their shirts are equally exquisite and well-made, super fine Egyptian cotton in super fine 120s, and sometimes 140s (2-ply), in some of the soft and sophisticated palette, including, the collection’s signature color – purple, in the men’s version it became the beautiful palette ranging from pale lilac, lavender and pale iris, and I was obsessed with those colors not only it’s the signature color of the collection, but its understated sophistication and the ultimate aristocratic flair that appeals me so much! I remember when working in the brand’s then one-and-only retail flagship that dedicated to the exclusive Purple Label collection in my city, the elegant, dark wood interior which replicates the style of the historical grandeur of an English grand mansion meets the polished American modernism in beige walls, warm lighting and the soft beige carpet, upholstered with the brand’s own furniture, tasteful coffee table books on the table with topics from art, photography and even Hollywood movie stars and history, listening to singer Alex Parks' song 'Yellow' playing inside the boutique all day long, the huge bouquet of fresh white Casablanca Lily that changed almost every three to four days, with the fragrant of the flower mixed with the brand’s luxurious alluring perfume, ‘Glamorous’ (ad campaign featured actress Penelope Cruz), which the unique scent can be smelled in every corner inside the boutique; it’s how easy to make those who worked inside this luxuriously furnished boutique, to be indulged in this grandiose atmosphere, and confused themselves as an owner of this “grand mansion”, however, naively forgot that we were merely an employee of the brand.

Personally, I always have a belief, especially when working in such a spectacular retail space, surrounded oneself with all these exquisite and luxurious refined menswear, it’s essential to elevate one’s standard when it comes to grooming, presentation, and knowledge from luxury fashion to sophisticated lifestyle, especially having all these elite clients from different culture and nationality walking through the boutique’s front door every single day; and I am glad that I’ve been the part of this fashion history, and made my best effort to do so; through this journey, it trained and sharpened me how the way I should dress in certain occasions, how to fold a piece of menswear neatly whether at work or at home, how to precisely organize my own wardrobe, and how to create a sophisticated atmosphere (whether for visual merchandising setting at work, or solely decorating for my own at home) and so on, which I still used those technique that I’ve learnt even until nowadays. During my retail career days with the brand, and later that I moved on for a better career advancement, I am fortunate enough to be able to own a couple pieces of the exquisite Purple Label menswear without breaking the bank, and throughout my accumulation in the past decade, little by little, which enabled me to assemble a total Purple Label look, that I have worn them in a couple of Ralph Lauren’s in-store events in the past, that’s the moment that I called ‘things finally comes full circle’.

Besides menswear, there are three books about Ralph Lauren that sits in my bookshelves and on my coffee table, the most impressive one, is the namesake, first-edition giant coffee table book which published by Rizzoli back in 2007, it is one the largest (and heaviest) coffee table book I’ve ever had, but it is unexpectedly the most precious copy I had, at the same time, it somehow means a lot to me, especially when both the fashion designer and his style has such significant influence and impact in my fashion career, and my life when it comes to style, because of Ralph’s work, it makes me keep going back to refer those golden Hollywood glamour style from time to time, by having this book, it gives me such a perfect reference to revisit the past ad campaign and styling concept, the home interior of Ralph’s and the New York flagship boutique, which keep reminds me of maintaining a stylish living around, and keep polishing up my own sensitivity over style and sophisticated men’s fashion.

Perhaps you may notice as well, that each man that featured in Ralph Lauren’s ad campaign, the premium line collection in particular, whether it is the Purple Label collection, or the discontinued Black Label collection, they all look impeccable and handsome, and I have a piece of heart with their restraint, out-of-reach masculine elegance for quite some time, its flawless and sharp ‘dress to kill’ look, makes it almost too perfect to be existed in this world, like someone surreal that you can only find them in the old Hollywood movies, but they do live in our time now. For some reason, I have a feeling that the fashion designer is trying to project his own ideal about how a modern and stylish man should look like through each ensemble from his collection, and it makes me wondered if it’s the way to keep his work moving forward by reminding him about his younger self - his drive, passion, core belief, even his unapologetic personal style about menswear? (Ralph is known for his unique and audacity to dress differently – tasteful and sophisticated – than anyone around him when he was young.), or is it a kind of psychological comfort by creating these imaginary perfect gentlemen, through his refined menswear and styling in each season, to compensate the vastly vanishing classic way of men’s dressing, and those cultured, sophisticated gentlemanly character and chivalry in the real world now?

When talking about fashion and designer, one of the thing that I usually like to collect is their perfume creation, yes, fragrance is an invisible clothing, also it is the best, and probably most affordable item (well, perhaps back in few decades ago I should say) that can satisfy one to ‘wear’ the designer’s work, and enters into their creative domain and fantasy. Ironically, back in my RL days, none of their fragrance back then really clicks me, the most impressive memory that I have in mind is their ‘Romance’ Eau de parfum for ladies, I mean the original one in pastel pink and silver packaging, and a very simple, clear rectangular transparent bottle, topped with a glossy rectangular silver ‘lid’, with a very subtle name of the fragrance around the lid’s neck; this very original edition was launched back in 1998, the reason that I remember it so vividly because of their appealing packaging, which comes with a sublime shopping bag in glossy silver and arched silver handle that echoes to the packaging detail of the fragrance itself, moreover, it was decorated with a fresh light pink rose on one side of the handle, it’s one of the most understated and elegant perfume shopping bag that I’ve ever seen in my fashion career! I even recommended it to some of my male clients back then as a gift for their loved one too!

Another thing I remember it well is when I was talking to the perfume promoter, who stationed at the Ralph Lauren boutique that I was working in back then, not only she offered me a spray of the fragrance, she also explained to me what makes this fragrance so special, and that is the ‘sun rose’ which used, they were raised only in the backyard of Ralph Lauren’s home! Nowadays when I looked up in one of the global perfume library about this fragrance’s olfactory note, it simply described as ‘rose’ instead; whether it was solely a gimmick, or a fabrication of the perfume promoter back then to boost the sales of this fragrance, to me it did has a ‘wow’ moment in my head compared with the rest of the other Ralph Lauren fragrances.

Fast forward to around a decade ago, whenever I was having a business trip overseas, one of my safest ‘go-to’ fragrance, among a few, is the Polo Blue Eau de toilette (again, it’s the original one that launched in 2003), this is one of the male fragrance that I will wear, repetitively (given if no other better options out there) from the Ralph Lauren fragrance range, its oceanic freshness and woodiness is pleasant, sophisticated and uplifting but not overly powerful, in particular those intense alpha-male kind of fragrance that is punching one’s face that shows its masculinity, high ranking executive power smell, and those conventional strong after shave kind of smell. This fragrance indeed takes me back to the heydays of those aquatic ozone fragrance in the 90s, which I possibly believe the birth of this fragrance means it’s adopting the perfume trend back then, but making it more modern preppy, and a bit of urbane sports aesthetic. Besides, the original ad campaign of this perfume, featuring the handsome model, Mr. Doug Pickett, in the crispy white polo shirt, very simple and quietly stylish, a classic American ideal look of the perfect guy next door, which makes me sometimes fantasize how great will that be to look as dashing as Doug!

As time passed by, new generation of perfume keeps emerging to the market, some of the old ones, unfortunately, either being forgotten, or, no longer stands the test of time, my interest over the Ralph Lauren fragrances almost faded out completely, only until the pre-ending of the pandemic, for some reason I have a craving for their Purple Label fragrance. This one was launched in 2003, and it was classified as an amber woody fragrance for men, I guess it’s because that I heard this fragrance is going to be discontinued, and I would like to have one before it’s too late.

Despite this fragrance is not exactly my cup of tea (it doesn’t mean it’s not good, it could be a great scent for someone), again, I do respect its olfactory composition which it has a bit of gentle fruitiness in blackberry and Mandarin orange, the freshness from green Coriander and Sage, and its sophisticated masculinity scent from Musk, Mahogany and Oakmoss. It’s gentle woodiness with a hint of fruitiness, which sets it apart from other typical intense alpha-male fragrance, making it more sophisticated and aristocratic feel, thankfully it’s not too commercially smelling, it has the modern sartorial classiness, gentle but not weak, like a suave and well-bred modern man that coming from a prestigious and traditional family, that aligns with the aesthetic and quality of the Purple Label menswear collection. I am fond of this perfume bottle, firstly with its faceted purple glass and black upper part, which looks like the hip flask in the old time, the box in white pinstripe and black background, with the signature Purple Label on it, which exudes its classic men’s sartorial flare that homage to the traditional British tailoring, the whole packaging is nothing super groundbreaking, but the timeless elegance makes it appealing, and it will always reminds me of the purple color menswear and necktie that I have from the collection.

Although I have no longer wear all those Purple Label menswear nowadays, and they almost officially ‘retired’ in my wardrobe, it’s how moving to see how much I grew and learnt in my fashion career alongside with this iconic American fashion designer and tastemaker, through his work and vision, which makes me to understand a proper way of how to dress sophisticatedly no matter what fashion trend or influences out there, also, to become a better version of man everyday, starting from dressing impeccably, then work on the other aspect of life around us, keeping up the effort and standard, to make oneself a good-looking and well-bred gentleman that looks like those male models that walk out right from the brand’s campaign, giving the world another ideal gentleman that no one believe of his existence, and making it real.


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